GOOD TEACHERS know there's more to school than lectures and quizzes. They make learning fun by involving kids in projects and activities.
Two examples of the approach could be seen at local schools last week, one public and one private.
Fifth-graders at Elkridge Elementary School presented an evening of algebra, and middle-schoolers at Trinity School learned about French tradition by celebrating Mardi Gras.
The algebra event was organized for the 17 pupils in her fifth-grade program by Amy Colman, Gifted and Talented resource teacher at Elkridge Elementary School.
About 75 people were there, including grandparents, Colman said.
"It was really cool that they came together for their kids," she said. "We had grandparents there who hadn't done algebra in 50 years."
The pupils taught algebra to the visitors, using a model of a scale to show how equations are balanced.
After the show, everyone noshed on homemade brownies, chips and other snacks.
Assistant Principal Bill Jenkins also attended, Colman said. "He's very supportive of my program."
Colman, who trains other Gifted and Talented teachers in Howard County, said it was her fifth year as host of algebra night. She has been teaching for 21 years and has been at Elkridge since the school opened nine years ago.
"I have these kids year after year," she said of the pupils in the Gifted and Talented program. "That's been a real pleasure for me because I've worked with some of these kids since first grade."
Meanwhile, Karen Mentz, French teacher at Trinity School, has been giving pupils a hands-on taste of French culture through events she organizes each year.
In the fall, middle-school pupils stage a mock Tour de France race on tricycles. And toward the end of the year, they have a Bastille Day celebration that includes the French lawn-bowling game known as "boules." They also have a Christmas celebration with traditional foods.
Last week, middle-school pupils celebrated Mardi Gras. First, they learned about the day. Then some pupils volunteered to discuss Mardi Gras with children in the primary school.
As Cajun music played, the pupils paraded through the primary school in masks they had made, tossing necklaces and beads.
Back in the classroom, the young people helped make crepes. They ate the crepes, plus New Orleans "king cake" - a cinnamony, yeasty bread decorated in the traditional New Orleans Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple. The cake is baked with a small baby doll inside and the person who finds the baby is king or queen for a day, Mentz said.
Mardi Gras, which means fat Tuesday, is held on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins.
In French tradition, it is a day of pleasure before the time of abstinence. In New Orleans, the celebration typically lasts 12 days and includes elaborate parades with incredible floats and costumes.
Several parents attended the Mardi Gras celebrations, which were held on two days.
"I guess they come to enjoy it and to volunteer and help as well," Mentz said. "They are very supportive."
Mentz has been at Trinity four years. The first year, her pupils celebrated Christmas and Mardi Gras. The next year, the Tour de France was added to the schedule. The Bastille Day celebration was added last year, she said.
Emory United Methodist Church on Church Road in Ellicott City will hold a pancake and sausage dinner from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow at the church.
The cost is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 3 to 11 and $11 for families. Information: Roberta Davis at 410-465-2894 or the church at 410-465-6162.
Burleigh Manor Middle School raised about $13,000 with its annual Rock A-Thon, held Feb. 16. To raise money for the American Lung Association, pupils pledged not to smoke and then rocked in rocking chairs all day.
The idea was to raise awareness about the perils of smoking, said Barbara Mongello, the school's health teacher, who started the event about eight years ago.
"I had some kids that came up with the idea, and I've taken it from there," she said. "It's a pretty involved week, but it's like a tradition here."
The week is filled with anti-smoking events, including decorating the rocking chairs with anti-smoking themes, Mongello said.
At first, the event raised money for cancer, heart and lung associations. But in memory of school secretary Irene Watkins, who died in 1996 after a lung transplant, donations are now made only to the American Lung Association.
Mongello estimates the school has contributed about $35,000 to cancer, heart and lung organizations over the eight years.
Pupils raise between $13,000 and $15,000 each year. About $9,000 of that is donated each year, she said.